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First Dancing, Then Mating in Songbirds

Summary: A new study reveals that dancing, not signing, is the primary sexual signal for Java sparrows.

Source: Hokkaido University.

Java sparrows are more likely to mate after dancing together, according to a study from Hokkaido University, contradictory to the belief that songs are the primary sexual signal.

Songbirds are well-known to sing duets for various purposes such as mutual mate guarding and joint resource defense. For Java Sparrows, songs are performed only by males for courtship, but both males and females dance in a duet-like manner. The male’s song is thought to play an essential role in attracting female mates but the role of dancing has been unclear until now.

In a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE, Associate Professor Masayo Soma and Midori Iwama at Hokkaido University in Japan examined how duet-dancing influences the mating success of pairs during a first encounter.

The researchers found that although both duet-dancing and male-singing are associated to a higher rate of mating success, the former played an essential role in mating. Females often gave a copulation solicitation display (CSD), meaning they are ready to mate, before the males started to sing, or after listening to the introductory notes. These results suggest that dance is more important than the males’ singing.

Image shows the birds dancing.

This is a duet dancing of Java sparrows followed by mounting and copulation. NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the University Hokkaido video.

Masayo Soma says “It is surprising that females select mating partners without hearing the main song. The main song varies greatly among individuals and is thought to be important for selecting a mate in similar species.”

They also found that duet-dancing could be initiated by either sex, confirming the existing knowledge that courtship is a bilateral process in this species. Duet-dancing might also be part of a “matchmaking” process since males and females performed it on their first meeting. Solo-dancing by either the male or female did not result in a higher mating success in their study.

“Our current research didn’t look at how well their dances fit together. Future studies should look into the duration and degree of coordination in duet-dancing to better understand the role of dancing and its relative importance to singing. We are also interested in how dance routines change among pairs over time,” Masayo Soma added.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: This study was funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grants-in-Aid for Young Scientists.

Source: Naoki Namba – Hokkaido University
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the University Hokkaido video.
Video Source: Video credited to University Hokkaido.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Mating success follows duet dancing in the Java sparrow” by Jae-Byum Chang, Fei Chen, Young-Gyu Yoon, Erica E Jung, Hazen Babcock, Jeong Seuk Kang, Shoh Asano, Ho-Jun Suk, Nikita Pak, Paul W Tillberg, Asmamaw T Wassie, Dawen Cai & Edward S Boyden in PLOS ONE. Published online March 8 2017 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172655

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Hokkaido University “First Dancing, Then Mating in Songbirds.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 17 April 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/songbird-mating-dance-6429/>.
Hokkaido University (2017, April 17). First Dancing, Then Mating in Songbirds. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved April 17, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/songbird-mating-dance-6429/
Hokkaido University “First Dancing, Then Mating in Songbirds.” http://neurosciencenews.com/songbird-mating-dance-6429/ (accessed April 17, 2017).

Abstract

Mating success follows duet dancing in the Java sparrow

Mutual interactions between sexes have multiple signalling functions. Duet singing in songbirds is related to mutual mate guarding, joint resource defence, and signalling commitment. Coordinated visual displays of mating pairs are thought to perform similar functions, but are less well understood. The current study evaluated mutual interactions in an Estrildid species to explore the relative importance of duet dancing and male singing in mating success of pairs in a first encounter. When Java sparrows (Lonchura oryzivora) court prospective mates, only males sing. However, both males and females perform courtship dances, often in a duet-like manner. These dances are typically terminated by female copulation solicitation displays (CSDs). In the current study, we observed higher mating success when courtship dances were mutually exchanged, and when males sang. However, the sex initiating the courtship did not affect mating success. Most females produced CSDs after duet dancing but before hearing the entire song, indicating that duet dancing played a crucial role in mating. This finding highlights an unexplored aspect of duetting behaviour in the process of mutual mate choice. These results conflict with the majority of past songbird research, which has interpreted songs as primary behavioural sexual signals.

“Mating success follows duet dancing in the Java sparrow” by Jae-Byum Chang, Fei Chen, Young-Gyu Yoon, Erica E Jung, Hazen Babcock, Jeong Seuk Kang, Shoh Asano, Ho-Jun Suk, Nikita Pak, Paul W Tillberg, Asmamaw T Wassie, Dawen Cai & Edward S Boyden in PLOS ONE. Published online March 8 2017 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172655

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